Important Bird Areas

Shawangunk Grasslands

New York

The Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, formerly
known as the ?Galeville Military Airport? is located in the Town
of Shawangunk, Ulster County. In 1999, the General Services
Administration transferred 566 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (USFWS) to create a new national wildlife refuge. The refuge
comprises open grassland fields with a level or gently rolling topography,
and deciduous woods along property boundaries. According to the NY
GAP land cover data, approximately 25% of the site is open habitat, and
includes cropland and old field/pasture land. Approximately 400 acres
is actively managed as open field or grassland habitat and is dominated
by Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis). The site contains significant
wetlands (38% of the area) scattered throughout the site. Several rare
or uncommon plants grow on the refuge; species documented include
Frank?s sedge (Carex frankii), small-flowered agrimony (Agrimonia
parviflora), purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), small white aster
(Aster vimineus), Bush?s sedge (Carex bushii), coontail (Ceratophyllum
echinatum), and watermeal (Wolffia brazilinsis). Although the
surrounding landscape is rural, housing developments border three
sides of the refuge. The southern side of the refuge borders a large
horse farm.

Ornithological Summary

The refuge is an important breeding and wintering area for grassland
birds?one of few in the downstate region. It is also an important
wintering area for raptors, including Northern Harriers (36 in 1993),
Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, American Kestrels, Shorteared
Owls (many individuals present each winter, including 21 in
1995), and Northern Shrikes. Refuge winter raptor surveys frequently
document seven to nine Short-eared Owls and 12 to 17 Northern
Harriers (USFWS 2003, unpublished data). The John Burroughs
Natural History Society (1969) reported a maximum of 21 Short-eared
Owls, and Askildsen (1993) reported a maximum of 36 Northern
Harriers. The site also supports a diverse grassland bird breeding
community, including Northern Harriers, Upland Sandpipers, Vesper
Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Henslow?s
Sparrows, Bobolinks, and Eastern Meadowlarks. The refuge conducts
annual point-count surveys of breeding grassland birds in cooperation
with the John Burroughs Natural History Society. In addition, the
refuge also provides important habitat for migrant grassland birds in
spring and fall. Northern Harriers migrating along the Shawangunk
Mountains often stop at the refuge to rest and forage. Migrant Shorteared
Owls arrive at the refuge in early November and depart in late
April. Flocks of up to 100 Bobolinks gather at the refuge in August
and September, and flocks of up to 50 Eastern Meadowlarks can be
found in April, October, and November. Up to 19 Vesper Sparrows
have been counted at the refuge in October (Kahl, USFWS 2001,
personal observation).

Conservation Issues

This site is listed in the 2002 Open Space Conservation Plan as a
priority site under the project name Galeville Grasslands. This site is
managed to maintain the dominance of grasses in the fields. Without
frequent management, natural succession would shift that dominance
to broadleaf herbaceous plants and shrubs such as goldenrod (Solidago
spp), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and gray dogwood (Cornus
racemosa), causing the refuge to lose its habitat for grassland-dependent
birds. Mowing is now the primary technique to halt succession. Future
management techniques may include haying, grazing, discing, revegetating,
applying herbicides, and prescribed burning. Monitoring
of breeding grassland birds should continue.